PO2COS1-Contemporary Strategy

Module Provider: School of Politics, Economics and International Relations
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2017/8

Module Convenor: Mr Patrick Finnegan

Email: p.finnegan@reading.ac.uk

Summary module description:

This module will introduce the core concepts and issues in modern Strategic Studies.  In essence, this module is about how to use military force to achieve policy objectives.  To this end, the module will explore the use of military force in its many forms for a variety of political purposes.  Along the way, the most significant debates in modern strategy will be addressed.  Aside from asking the question ‘What can military force do for you?’, the module also asks ‘Why is strategy so difficult?’. 


This module is designed to enable students to apply the historical knowledge and ideas from the module 'War and Peace Since 1800', to a set of major strategic problem areas. It will introduce students to fundamental dimensions of thinking about war and their nexus with strategy in general and a choice of strategies in particular.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of the module it is expected that students will be able to:

  • recognize persisting issues in diverse historical contexts;

  • specify and analyse leading issues of enduring concern to defence professionals;

  • recognize and evaluate critically different schools of thought about strategic and security issues;

  • organise material and articulate arguments effectively in writing, both under timed conditions and in assessed essays.

Additional outcomes:

The module also aims to encourage the development of oral communication skills and the students' effectiveness in group situations, with some analytical procedures carried out as part of a team. Students will also develop their IT skills by use of relevant web resources.

Outline content:

The following content is indicative and may be subject to change.

This module is an introduction to war and contemporary strategic studies. It introduces students to some of the basic debates in war studies: what is war (definitions), what are common causes of wars, when (according to international law) can one resort to war (ius ad bellum), who fights in wars and against whom can one legitimately fight, how can one fight legitimately (ius in bello), how are wars ended, and do they always achieve a lasting peace? Against this background, it introduces students to the role of strategy: how do dimensions of strategy such as Tactics, Operational, Strategic, Grand strategic, offensive & defensive; direct and indirect approaches; asymmetric warfare, lawful and outlawed weapons, nuclear weapons and cyberwarfare hang together with these many different factors.

Global context:

The module addresses the global security environment and security issues specific to individual regions and countries.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

A combination of lectures and seminars.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 4
Seminars 8
Guided independent study 88
Total hours by term 100.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 100

Other information on summative assessment:

Summative assessment – Coursework and in-class tests:

Number and length of assignments and in-class tests, and submission date for each assignment (expressed as a week of a specific Term):

Coursework:  Students will write one essay of 4,000 words. Non-submitted essays will be awarded a mark of zero.


Formative assessment methods:

Students will also give an oral seminar presentation, with prepared handouts and/or PowerPoints.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.

  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:

    Requirements for a pass:

    40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:

    If a student fails to pass the year at the first attempt there is an opportunity to be re-assessed on one further occasion at the next opportunity in those modules achieving a mark of less than 40%. Students who are eligible for re-assessment have the right to re-assessment in all elements even if they have previously passed one of those elements. It is expected, however, that the majority of students would probably elect not to repeat an element in which they had already passed, in which case the confirmed marks would be carried forward.

    Examination: Re-examination takes place in August/September of the same year.

    Coursework: Failed or missing coursework should be re-submitted by 1st August, emailed directly to politics@reading.ac.uk, AND submitted on Blackboard.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Required text books:

    Strategy in the Contemporary World, 4th edition, by John Baylis, James Wirtz, Colin Gray (Oxford: Oxford University Press) - £13

    Understanding Modern Warfare, 2nd edition, by David Jordan et al (Cambridge University Press) - £30

    Last updated: 4 October 2017

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